Jalisco, Mexico’s long-loved relaxation destination, now hosts a whole lot more.
By Ashley Breeding and Linda Domingo
The mention of Puerto Vallarta, a balneario (resort city) nestled near the Pacific Ocean’s Bahia de Banderas, often conjures images of cozy cabana beds and tequila coladas. But if the thought of being bound to a lounge chair by the beach or pool makes you squirm, fret not—“Porto,” as locals call it, now offers an array of other outdoor activities to get your adrenaline flowing while your mellower companions soak up the sun. And a few of the area’s swankiest hotels still provide a haven of relaxation for moments of rest, refueling and rejuvenation.
Where to Play
Puerto Vallarta offers a variety of adventures for all fitness levels. For a low-intensity, highly educational experience, visit the El Salado Estuary, located in the municipality of Puerto Vallarta. Connected to the ocean by the dock port and yacht marina, the protected urban estuary is most abundant in the rainy season (June through November) and flows through aquatic, deciduous and predominantly mangrove forests. From the seat of the motorboat tour, you’ll see lush flora and fauna, among more than 100 species of tropical birds—including the common egret and tricolored heron—clusters of colorful crabs lining tree limbs, and amphibians and reptiles, as well as other wildlife. Ride at low tide, and your chances of catching a crocodile are even greater. For a bird’s-eye view, seize the opportunity to dock and climb up the watchtower—60 stairs will earn you sweeping views at every angle. (visitpuertovallarta.com)
Water adventurers can watch marine life and “catch a memory” aboard Mike’s Fishing Charters, ranging from a Luhrs 36-footer that holds eight, to a 46-foot Viking that accommodates 15. Spend the day however you like—fishing for marlin and sailfish on the Banderas Bay, snorkeling through Los Arcos (The Arches) or catching some sunshine and sipping refreshments on the boat deck. A kitchen, TV lounge and cabin seating make for a comfortable all-day stay-and-play on the water. (pvmikesfishing.com)
Perfectly suited to extreme adventurers is Vallarta Adventures’ Extreme Zip Line Adventure tour. Don’t be fooled by the name: You’ll do much more than zip line. Rev up your five-hour excursion with an off-road vehicle ride through the mountains, using the hour to admire the views and work up some courage (and enjoy the warm breeze against your face if you go on a hot day). What follows are three intense hours of about nine zip lines, rappelling from tree stands, a high-speed ATV spin and the grand finale: a mile-long zip line, the longest in Latin America. Face first, tightly bundled in a special harness, you’ll soar at up to 60 mph above the treetops. If you’ve ever wanted to experience what it feels like to fly like a bird, this is your opportunity. It tops skydiving and paragliding, wings down. (vallarta-adventures.com)
Where to Stay
Hilton Puerto Vallarta Resort, which opened its doors in October, is idyllically situated on Banderas Bay and boasts beautiful ocean and mountain views. Just a short taxi ride from downtown, the resort is a vacation haven, with clean, modern decor and all of the amenities one could ask for—including spacious suites (some with a private dunking pool), a community infinity pool, a lively lobby bar and lounge, three on-site restaurants, a salon and spa complete with a therapeutic “flotarium” (salt bath), fitness center, kids club and music lounge. The best part? The resort is all-inclusive, which means all costs—from that beer in your mini-fridge to poolside brunch—are covered in the room fee. (hilton.com)
Located just north of Puerto Vallarta International Airport, the Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta opened in August 2012 and offers modern suites with in-room hot tubs, exceptional service and the familiar Hard Rock brand on beautiful Mexican beachfront property. Also an all-inclusive resort, the AAA four-diamond hotel is the perfect home base for travelers who also want to fit in a bit of partying with their adventure, featuring four restaurants, four bars, a spa and two pools, not to mention a friendly staff that caters to guests’ every whim. (hrhvallarta.com)
If the hustle and bustle is what you’re after, check in to the Rosita Hotel, located in the heart of the downtown area. Sitting right on the famous Malecon beach and boardwalk—lined with restaurants, shops and a host of street entertainers—Rosita is the oldest hotel in Jalisco, evidenced by its traditional Mexican architecture and character, complete with brick, Spanish tile and hand-carved wooden furniture. It’s the perfect place to stay if you want to dine and play right in your own backyard. (hotelrosita.com)
Where to Dine
For an intimate setting with a lot of soul, visit El Arrayan downtown. From the colorful artwork and other decorative accents to the deliciously authentic cuisine—like cricket tacos—the restaurant is filled with true Mexican flavor. There are so many great starter options, including the plantain empanadas and warm “panela” cheese, that you may choose to forego the main course and share in a spread of appetizers. Those with heartier appetites shouldn’t miss out on the ceviche Colima, a dish of baby scallops marinated with avocado, cilantro, onion and serrano peppers. Complete with a friendly staff, traditional music and a tall list of tasty cocktails, El Arrayan provides a truly warming experience. (elarrayan.com.mx)
For a more upscale dining experience, try La Leche for a minimalist atmosphere—everything is pure white and the walls are stacked with paint cans stamped “La Leche”—that boasts avant-garde cuisine with French and Mexican influences. Each entree, created by chef Alfonso Cadena, is an art presentation on a plain white plate that boldly stands out against the restaurant’s blank background. Both the presentation and fresh, ever-changing menu earned the establishment the title of one of “the seven best restaurants in Mexico” by Quien Magazine. (lalecherestaurant.com)
Wherever your travels take you in Puerto Vallarta, the resort city holds something for everyone—be it rest and relaxation or countless adventures as you explore the region’s cultural sights and natural beauty. LBM